Lisa Godfrey talks unscripted strategy

Corus Entertainment's VP of original content discusses international trends, talent and the company's global ambitions.

Lisa GodfreyCorus Entertainment unveiled an unscripted heavy Fall 2018/19 slate earlier this week, adding new series like Architect Films’ Fire Masters and Proper Television’s Iron Chef Canada (the latter of which will feature celebrity chefs Hugh Acheson, Lynn Crawford and Susur Lee).

Playback caught up with Corus’ VP of original content, Lisa Godfrey, ahead of its slate announcement to discuss the Canadian and global unscripted biz – what’s making waves internationally and how Corus dovetails those trends with its needs at home.

V-v-volume

The good news for producers and talent with properties greenlit for Corus specialty channels is that volume is now a key priority for the company. She points to originals like Worst to First (Corus Studios/Great Pacific Media) and Backyard Builds (Corus Studios/Frantic Films), both of which were recently renewed for second seasons, and which have sold to 57 and 55 markets around the world, respectively. “[Volume] is a driver of daytime fare for the international market,” she says. “So, we have bolstered that through renewals of our content.”

However, she notes, success starts at home. “Docusoap” series such as Moving the McGillivrays (McGillivray Entertainment) and Sarah Off the Grid (Alibi Entertainment) were solely dictated by the Canadian market, she says. Unlike the U.S. – where buyers are looking for shows with “a beginning, middle and end” – Canadian audiences want to dive into the lives of their favourite talent through spinoffs and online content. That insight led to both of the commissions, utilizing top talent from Corus’ shelter series.

Speaking of talent…

Talent continues to dominate the Canadian and international lifestyle space. From homegrown superstars the Property Brothers to the chefs-turned-celebrities who rule over primetime, engaging personalities continue to sell. That will remain the case at Corus, says Godfrey. Not only do Canadians enjoy connecting with Canadian talent, but they’re also key to selling brand integrations.

Take brand-friendly reno star Bryan Baeumler. RBC recently signed a three-year deal with Corus, first integrating its products into Baeumler’s Bryan Inc. (Si Entertainment). There are also plans to feature RBC products in the recently ordered Island of Bryan (also Si Entertainment). “We’re always saying to people ‘bring us talent first and then we’ll help you build a show,’” notes Godfrey.

Fashion (format) forward

With its latest commission for Slice, Stitched (Forté Entertainment), Corus is hoping to fill a gap in the Canadian and international marketplace for episodic fashion-centric unscripted programming. Particularly geared at a millennial audience, the format has a “DIY aspect” that is trending internationally, she says. Introduced at MIPTV in 2018, Godfrey says several broadcasters have offered to pre-buy the series.

“We’re not just looking to tape-sell; we see this as an opportunity for different countries to do their own version of the show,” she asserts. While Corus has commissioned its fair share of format adaptations for the Canadian marketplace in the past (The Real Housewives of Toronto, Chopped Canada, etc.), Godfrey says, going forward, it’s looking to take its own original formats to the world.

What Corus is looking for next: Corus is on the hunt for another ensemble unscripted show, like its hit Timber Kings (Paperny Entertainment), which ran for four seasons. Godfrey is particularly looking for series that highlight talent from the East Coast – a unique part of the world not seen often enough on TV, she says.

One show I wish I commissioned: TLC’s 90-Day Fiancé (Sharp Entertainment). The series, which follows international couples trying to navigate cultural barriers, is fun, escapist programming that sparks a conversation.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Playback.